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Thunderbirds forward Jared Davidson kept believing after being passed over in Bantam Draft

Thunderbirds forward Jared Davidson wasn't drafted in the Bantam Draft but could move into a top-six role for Seattle this year. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

When his hockey season ended in the spring of 2018, forward Jared Davidson had some options. He had not been drafted the year prior by a WHL team but had two camp invites to mull over. One was from then Everett Silvertips Director of Player Personnel, Bil La Forge. The other was from Seattle Thunderbirds goalie coach, Ian Gordon.

Davidson went with Gordon and the Thunderbirds.

“Ian Gordon was a big impact,” Davidson says of his decision. “He talked to me a few times during the year and I got to know him a little bit. It seemed like Seattle was a good organization.”

Soon after the invite was accepted, La Forge was hired as general manager in Seattle and in the end, got his guy.

With an impressive camp last fall, Davidson, 16 at the time, signed with the Thunderbirds and played 48 games during his rookie campaign. He scored twice but showed some of the skill that attracted him to both Everett and Seattle, despite limited ice time.

“I always liked ‘Davey,” La Forge says. “He produced at every level he was at, there was an element of smarts to his game. He had skill and last year he showed that skill at times. He’d get shots off from a spot that only a few guys could do. Regardless of how much ice time he had, he had the puck a little bit. That’s a good sign moving forward, he wasn’t afraid of the moment.

“He liked to have the puck on his stick, and he has the ability to make plays. He’s another one that’s such a good kid and hard worker that it’s hard to see him not developing.”

Davidson, who hails from Edmonton, was like most Western Canadian hockey playing kids. He wanted to play in the WHL and watched the Bantam Draft with anticipation. The 2017 draft came and went, and his name wasn’t called.

It was a blow, but one that didn’t flatten him.

“I wanted to get drafted,” he says of draft day. “It was a little upsetting, but you can’t think about it too much, you have to just keep pushing to achieve your goal. You just have to be confident about yourself. Just know what you can do and if it’s a goal, strive to achieve it.”

Instead of pouting, he played in the Alberta Major Midget Hockey League in 2017-2018 and recorded 43 points in 36 games with SSAC Athletics. Gordon and La Forge saw a lot of him, and both liked what they saw.

When he arrived at the accesso ShoWare Center last fall, he was not one of the main attractions. Seattle’s draft class from 2018 got all the attention coming into camp. Those prospects, like Kai Uchacz, Lucas Ciona and Connor Roulette, stood out.

Davidson did as well.

“I just felt like nobody really knew who I was, so I had to play my best and make a name for myself,” Davidson says of his first Thunderbirds camp. “As time went on, I just started realizing I could play with the bigger boys. I definitely felt better and started playing better.”

La Forge and the Thunderbirds coaches agreed, and the 5-foot-10 speedster was signed before the team broke camp.

Opening night came in late September and there Davidson was. Undrafted, but playing in front of 6,000 loud fans against Seattle’s biggest rivals, the Portland Winterhawks.

It was the biggest crowd he had ever played in front of, and something he won’t soon forget.

“Nerves were going through my body,” he recalls. “It was insane with all the fans and noise. It was crazy.”

He didn’t get a lot of ice time that night, taking three faceoffs, winning one. But as the season wore on, he would gradually earn more time. Making the adjustment to the WHL at 16 is tough, but he showed the skill and promise that should lead to an increased role moving forward.

“I’m really excited with where he’s at,” La Forge says. “He plays all three forward positions. He fits into any spot we ask him to. I think he could be a power-play guy at times. I think he’s already a penalty killer and you can trust him on and off the ice. He’s just a wonderful young man.”

Davidson realized how much bigger, stronger, and faster the players in the WHL were. He says he learned he didn’t have the time and space to make the perfect pass that he had at lower levels.

But he caught on as the season moved along.

He also got some help from the older players, guys who had been through the WHL ringer before him.

“Everybody was good,” Davidson says. “(Nolan) Volcan was a big one and my billet brother (Jarret) Tyszka. He helped throughout the whole thing. He lived the life as a 16-year-old as well. They all know what it takes, and I just soaked up as much information as I could.”

Back home in Edmonton this summer, where he says he’s remained a loyal Oilers fan, Davidson has been working on his puck skills and skating. The coming season offers a big opportunity for him as the Thunderbirds will have a young group of forwards.

Davidson has the chance for more ice time and a larger role.

He’s looking to get some power-play time, penalty-kill time, and perhaps even a spot in Seattle’s top-six forward group. It will have to be earned, however.

“It’s just another opportunity,” Davidson says. “If you don’t believe in yourself to play in the top six, then you won’t. It’s just getting into a mental mindset and you’ll succeed. You look at numbers, but you don’t really think about it too much. You just go out there and play your game.”